LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
With our busy work schedules, family life, and chores around the house we have less time to spend in the woods each year. With a limited time to spend chasing long beards, you can’t afford to call it quits because the weather throws you a curve ball. Instead, you need to be able to adapt to the weather conditions that are handed to you each spring and make the most of your time in the woods. In this article we will cover various weather conditions you may be faced with each spring. We will break down each type of condition and cover the tips and tactics to overcome both the weather and the turkeys.
Turkeys will go about their day regardless of the weather. Successful bowhunters know to adjust their tactics to capitalize on changes in behavior due to the weather.
If you live in the south consider yourself lucky that you may not have to deal with the element of snow while turkey hunting. However, here in the Midwest, this is a weather condition you must be prepared for. Turkeys don’t hibernate nor do they burrow holes and seek refuge underground. So, when the snow blows they’re still in the elements….and you should be too.
For starters be prepared for a long wait when the birds are on the roost. It seems that with poor weather and cold temps they often just hang out on their limb waiting for the conditions to change. The problem is that you’re stuck sitting on the cold ground waiting them out. The key is to be patient because by mid-morning they will eventually hit the ground and head off to feed. Just like deer, the colder the temps the more they need to eat.
Don’t let cold weather keep you away from chasing long beards. Get out there and get your gobbler.
Knowing that they have food on the mind you should too. And no, I don’t mean heading back to camp to eat and warm up! The flock is controlled by the boss hens, not the toms. The hens will head to the food source to feed, pulling the long beards with them. Start looking for food sources such as picked corn fields that haven’t been plowed under yet, fresh spread manure fields and other food sources that are accessible to turkeys. The best part of snow is that it leaves tracks. By scouting an area you can quickly see where these birds’ preferred food sources are based on the tracks in the snow and feeding activity. If you find a hot feeding area under snowy conditions your best option is to buckle down, set up a ground blind with some decoys on the food source and wait them out.
Here in the Mid-west, snow is often a factor in the earlier part of the spring turkey season. This time of year the majority of the birds are still in their larger flocks. It’s not uncommon to see flocks of twenty or more hens and six or more long beards strutting amongst the hens. These weather conditions along with a large flock of turkeys, is the main reason to set up on the food source. It’s very difficult to call a tom away from twenty hens, so your best option is to set up where they already want to go and be as close to that route as you can.
When it comes to hunting long beards off the roost at fly down, often rainy conditions can cause similar habits in turkeys as cold and snowy conditions. The more it rains the longer they sit on the roost. If it’s raining be patient at fly down because it will turn into the game of just waiting them out. With an evening rain shower, turkeys have a tendency to seek refuge from the rain by roosting in mature pines and pine plantations instead of open oaks and hard woods. The reason for this is that they seek the cover of the big pine branches to shield them from the rain as they sleep.
If you have a bird roosted the night before, the best rainy roost tactic is to sneak in before daylight using the sound of the rain to cover your noise walking in and setting up. Get close to the roost as you can and set up a pop up ground blind. (pre-treat your blind before the season with a water proof spray to help keep you dry during your wait) sit tight and wait them out because sooner or later they will fly down and continue going about their day.
Key tactics for rainy day turkeys include blind calling. Head to open areas, fields, cut overs, and logging roads. Set up your blind and some decoys and call for an hour or two and move to another location and try again. Continue this tactic and sooner or later an opportunity will present itself.
During rainy conditions gobbling slows down and even stops. This makes aggressive tactics such as cutting and running less effective, however even though the gobbling slows down and they develop a bad case of lock jaw, doesn’t mean they don’t come to calling. They actually respond better to calling during these weather conditions. Because of the rain, their hearing is damped making them more vulnerable. Turkeys feeling vulnerable prefer to “flock up” and join the company of other turkeys, its mother nature’s method of safety in numbers, more eyes to watch for danger. You can use this to take advantage of a vulnerable bird. Since they tend to develop lock jaw during a rain storm don’t expect your long beard to gobble. Instead of cutting and running, switch tactics to decoys and a ground blind in known open feeding areas or travel corridors that birds on your hunting property tend to travel through. Use the ground blind to protect yourself from the elements and do some blind calling, but be on your toes because long beards will come in quietly on the defensive as they investigate your calls looking for a sweet hen to meet up with.
On a side note, one of the best times to hunt long beards is right after a rain storm has moved through. My most successful hunts are when a quick rain storm moves through and the sun begins to peek out. For whatever the reason it seems to get the toms fired up. If you experience this weather change during your hunt make sure you hit the ground running looking for a hot bird.
Out of all the weather conditions listed in this article, fog has the least impact on turkeys. A heavy fog will cause the turkeys to hang on the roost longer; much like rain and snow. However I have noticed that even though they may sit on their limbs longer they will gobble more. You can use the fog to your advantage. Fog can cover and conceal your approach as you move in close to the roost. The other benefit with toms gobbling longer on the roost under foggy conditions is that it buys you more time to move in and set up before fly down. I have also noticed that turkeys seem to gravitate more towards open terrain and fields under foggy conditions much like they do during rain.
When the fog sets in on your hunt, seize the opportunity to locate a hot bird on the roost and utilize Mother Nature’s smoke screen to move in close to the roost at fly down.
As the day progresses and foggy conditions continue, work the edges of open fields and open terrain much like you would under rainy conditions. However unlike rain, toms will continue to gobble and gobble much later in the morning under the cover of the fog. So don’t feel tied down to a ground blind. Set up like you would with rain. If you have the property and the room to roam, hit the ground running mid-morning trying to strike a hot bird by cutting and running. Doing so you allows you to take advantage of a mouthy bird late into the morning hours when on a clear day the gobbling activity would normally have slowed down.
In my opinion, this is one of the hardest weather conditions to hunt turkeys in. In order to call in a long beard he needs to be able to hear your calls. If wind prevents him for hearing your calls don’t expect him to come running. I apologize for being “Captain Obvious” but when the wind blows the key is to seek areas that are out of the wind. As simple as it is, you would be surprised how many times hunters fail to recognize this. A big ole tom wants to attract hens by gobbling and strutting, neither of which he can do effectively when the wind is howling. Living their entire lives exposed to the elements they learn quickly to seek refuge from the wind and continue going about their day as usual. As hunters we to must do the same, after all you can’t call in a bird if they aren’t around or can’t hear you.
Start searching areas out of the wind. If you’re hunting flat country start working areas with pine trees and wind breaks. Young pine plantations with eight feet tall or taller trees fit the bill perfectly. Add logging roads that run through the plantation and you have a honey hole on a windy day. Often long beards love to strut, loaf, and feed on bugs that inhabit the grassy ground that is often found in and amongst the pines. Throw a natural wind break from the pines and you will quickly see why birds head to these locations when the wind blows. These are excellent mid-day locations to find birds loafing while trying to get out of the wind.
The biggest problem while hunting in windy conditions is getting the birds to hear you. If they can’t hear you then you can’t call them in for the kill.
Another excellent flat land wind location is river breaks and swamp bottoms. Turkeys love to roost above water as it provides Mother Nature’s moat to prevent predators from sneaking up below their roost trees. Because of the moist fertile soil found along river bottoms, large trees provide excellent roost sites and cover from the wind. These low land locations also provide shelter from the blowing wind.
When hunting hill country during windy conditions, start by looking for birds on the side hills and bottoms out of the wind. I have chased a lot of “Ridge Runners” in my career. These are birds that roost along the hill side towards the top of the ridge. When they fly down off the roost they strut and carry on strutting and gobbling all along the very peak of the ridge. The hill is their castle and they can keep an eye out for danger as a predator tries to approach them coming up either side of the ridge. These birds can be very difficult to approach during calm sunny days, but their Achilles heel is on windy days, they actually become easier to hunt.
Regardless of the weather that you may be dealt during your spring hunt, turkeys don’t burrow underground and neither should you. Once those long beards feet touch the ground he goes about his daily routine……making him killable. Just ask yourself, under the given weather conditions where would you go to escape the elements and you can bet the turkeys will be there too. The key to being successful during poor weather conditions is to adjust your tactics to match the behavior of the birds.
Don’t let the weather stand in your way this spring. Apply these tactics and connect on your next gobbler.
Turkeys can be the most unpredictable creature in the woods. There is no guarantee when it comes to turkey hunting. However, one thing I will guarantee is that you won’t kill a turkey sitting in the comforts of home or camp.